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THE LIFE

OF

DENIS HAMPSON,

THE BLIND BARD OF MAGILLIGAN.

“The rolls of fame I will not now explore,

Nor need I here describe in learned lay,
How forth the minstrel fared in days of yore,

Right glad of heart, though homely in array,

His waving beard and locks all hoary grey ;
While from his bending shoulders decent hung

His harp, the sole companion of his way;
Which to the whistling wind responsive rung
And ever, as he went, some merry lay he sung,"

The following account of the blind bard of Magilligan was taken from his own lips, July 3, 1805, by the Rev. Mr. Sampson, at the request of Miss Owenson, now Lady Morgan.

“Denis Hampson, or the man with two heads, is a native of Derry; his father, Bryan Darrogher Hampson, held the whole town-land of Tyrcrevan, and his mother's relations were in possession of the Wood-town, (both considerable farms in Magilligan.) He lost his sight at the age of three years, by the small-pox; at twelve he began to learn the harp, under Bridget O'Cahan, for,' as he said, in those old times, women as well as men were taught the Irish harp, in the best families, and every old Irish family had harps in plenty.' His next teacher was John C. Garragher, a blind travelling harper, whom he followed to Buncranagh, where his master used to play to Colonel Vaughan; he had afterwards Laughlin Hanning and Pat Connor in succession, as masters. All these were from Connaught, which was, as he added, the best part of the kingdom for music and harpers.'

“At eighteen years of age he began to play for himself, and was taken into the house of Counsellor Canning, at Garvagh, for half a year; his host, with Squire Gage and Doctor Bacon, bought, and presented him with, a harp. He travelled nine

He travelled nine or ten years through Ireland and Scotland, and tells some facetious stories of gentlemen in both countries; among others, that, in passing near to the residence of Sir J. Campbell, at Aghanbrack, he learned that this gentleman had spent a great deal, and was living on an allowance of so much per week. Hampson, through delicacy, would not call, but some of the domestics were sent after him; on coming into the castle, Sir James asked him why he had not called, adding, 'sir, there never was a harper but yourself that passed the door of my father's house;' to which Hampson answered, that he had heard in the neighbourhood that his honour was not often at home, with which delicaie evasion Sir James was satisfied. He added, that this was the highest-bred and stateliest man he ever knew; if he were putting on a new pair of gloves, and one of them dropped on the floor, (though ever so clean,) he would order his servant to bring him ano

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ther pair. · He says that, in that time he never met but one laird that had a harp, and that was a very small one, played on formerly by the laird's father, and that when he tuned it with new strirgs, the laird and his lady were both so pleased with his music, that they invited him back in these words ; ‘Hampson, as soon as you think this child of ours (a boy of three years of age,) is fit to learn on bis grandfather's harp, come back to teach bim, and you shall not repent it;' but this, however, he never accomplished.

He told me a story of the laird of Stone, with a great deal of comic relish. When he was playing at the house, a message came that a large party of gentlemen were coming to grouse, and would spend some days with the laird ; the lady, being in great distress, turned to her husband, saying, 'what shall we do, my dear, for so many, in the way of beds ?' Give yourself no vexation,' replied the laird; 'give us enough to eat, and I will supply the rest, and as to beds, believe me, every man shall find one for himself,' meaning that his guests would fall under the table.

In this second trip to Scotland, in the year 1745, being at Edinburgh, when Charles the Pretender was there, he was called into the great hall to play; at first he was alone, but afterwards four other fiddlers joined. The tune called for was, “ The king shall enjoy his own again.' He sung here part of the words following;

I hope to see the day
When the Whigs shall run away,

And the king shall enjoy his own again.' “I asked him if he heard the Pretender speak; he replied, 'I only heard him ask, 'Is Sylvan there ?"

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that was

on which some one answered, he is not here, please your Royal Highness, but he shall be sent for.' He meant to say Sullivan, continued Hampson, 'but

the
way

be called the name.' Hampson, who was then above fifty years old, was brought into the Pretender's presence by Colonel Kelly, of Roscommon, and Sir Thomas Sheridan. He

says

that Capt. M'Donnel, when in Ireland, came to see him, and that he told the Captain, that Charley's cockade was in his father's house.

“He played in many Irish houses; among others, those of Lord De Courcy, Mr. Fortescue, Sir P. Bellew, and Squire Roche; also in the great towns of Dublin, Cork, &c. respecting all which he interspersed pleasant anecdotes, with surprising gaiety and correctness. As to correctness, he mentioned many anecdotes of my grand-father and grand-aunt, at whose houses he used to be frequently; in fact, in this identical harper, whom you sent me to survey, I recognized an acquaintance, who, as soon as he found me out, seemed exhilarated at having an old friend of what he called, the old stock,' in his poor cabin. He even mentioned

many anecdotes of my own boyhood, which, though by me long forgotten, were accurately true; these things shew his surprising power of recollection, at the age of a hundred and eight years. Since I saw him last, which was in 1787, the wen on the back of his head is greatly increased; it is now hanging over his neck and shoulders, nearly as large as his head, from which circumstance he derives his appellative, the man with two heads.' General Hart, who is an admirer of music, sent a limner lately

he

to take a drawing of him, which cannot fail to be interesting, if it were only for the venerable expression of his meagre, blind countenance, and the syinmetry of his tall, thin, but not debilitated, person. I found him lying on his back in bed, near the fire of his cabin; his family being employed in the usual way. His harp was under the bed-clothes, by which his face was covered also. When he heard my name, started up, (being already dressed,) and scemed rejoiced to hear the sound of my voice, which, he said, he began to recollect. He asked for my children, whom I brought to see him, and he felt them over and over; then, with tones of great affection, he blessed God that he had seen four generations of the name, and ended by giving the children his blessing, He then tuned his old time-beaten liarp, his solace and bedfellow, and played with astonishing justness, and good taste. The tunes which he played were his favourites; and he, with an elegance of manner, said at the same time, 'I remember you have a fondness for music, and the tunes you used to ask for I have not forgotten;' these were Coolin, the Dawning of the Day, Ellen Aroon, Ceandubhdilis, &c.

These, except the third, were the first tunes which, according to regulation, be played at the famous meeting of harpers at Belfast, under the patronage of some amateurs of Irish music. Mr. Bunting, the celebrated musician of that town, was at Hampson's, the year before, noting his tunes, and his manner of playing, which is in the best old style. He said, with the honest feeling of self-love, ‘when I played the old tunes, not another of the harpers would play after me.'

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